Sunday, August 20, 2006

NYC By Night

Traffic rushing past the Times Square Subway, and the lights of 42nd Street

One thing about New York, I wouldn’t want their electricity bill… The neon lights that make the city so spectacular by night must be expensive to run.

Views down 42nd Street

I ended my first day in New York by going up the famous Empire State Building. The entry to the building is a little deceiving. You need to queue a total of four times to get up to the top (well the 86th floor anyhow) – first to go through the security check, secondly to buy a ticket, thirdly for the lift. And when you think that you’re about to get out at the top, at the 80th floor, you get out of the main lift, and need to queue again for the lift to the observatory. Crazy stuff… The view, however is worth it. Difficult to capture the view with a camera (I was a little scared of dropping it – I had a feeling that my camera wouldn’t survive a fall from the top of NY’s tallest building) but it’s such an awesome sight, the view out over the five boroughs and lights as far as you can see.

The Chrysler Building and Times Square from the Empire State Building

After descending the building, I wandered up through Times Square. From above, the Square glows from thousands of advertisements, cars, theatres and restaurants. It’s not so much as square as a parade of lights, stretching for a few blocks. Times Square on a Saturday night was filled with people, out and about – so many that the crowd stretched from the sidewalk onto the first lane of traffic – which was largely closed off to vehicles by the traffic police. No special event, just an ordinary Saturday night in summer.

Hersheys at Times Square, and bank advertising
Mosaic in the Times Square Subway station

Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on W 53rd Street

Interesting exhibits in the design gallery

A friend had recommended to me that this was a museum I’d really enjoy. How right he was – it was probably the best museum I’ve ever been to. Full of artworks by the likes of Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Warhol, Picasso, Matisse, Magritte and a great smattering of unusual sculptures, an amazing photography section and a couple of rooms full of design – fabulous chairs and the like. I don’t necessarily know what it all means, but it was certainly an engaging museum. The artworks were really thought provoking, and in many cases, reminded me of works I’d seen in other museums of the world. Not only is the art extraordinary, but the building is remarkable, even including a suspended helicopter. I also had a great minestrone at the museum café – far cry from the food available at most museums.
Interior of the museum, and Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans exhibit

Saturday, August 12, 2006

New York State of Mind

Here I am in Central Park

For years I have been dreaming of going to New York – there was no question of excluding it from my itinerary this time.

Central Park views - wandering the many paths, and indulging in a spot of squirrel spotting

I arrived to Manhattan on a Friday afternoon. The trip from JFK takes a while on the subway, plus I was under pressure to work out the system right away, as I had to change to the Broadway Local to get where I needed to go on the Upper West Side. But I got there with no problems.

Left: Rockefeller Centre, Right: Strawberry Fields in Central Park, a memorial to John Lennon

New York is by no means a clean city – it’s a bit grimy in places, even more so in others, but it’s a city with such a fabulous atmosphere. I loved it from the second I got there. It’s also such a contrast from Europe – people talk on the subway, store assistants see it as their job (or in some places even their calling) to help you.

Left: The United Nations, Right: Grand Central Station

I didn’t realise how big Manhattan was until I spent a day, working my way from my accommodation on West 103rd St until I ended the day at 4th St, in Greenwich Village. I saw lots on the way, famous shops, MoMA, Fifth Avenue, and of course the famous Central Park, which I absolutely loved. It’s a great way to find some peace and quiet, and greenery in the big, busy city. I used to think Sydney, then London was fast paced, until I hit New York. There’s people on the streets all the time, the subway runs 24 hours a day on some lines.

The view from the Rockefeller Centre

Left: View over Central Park from Rockefeller Centre, Right: Foyer of the Rockefeller Centre

One of the best ways to see NYC is from the top, by going up either the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Centre. I did the former by night at the start of my stay and the latter by day, the afternoon before I flew out. It’s a great way to see the lay of the land, and I’ve never seen so many buildings and skyscrapers in one view before. It’s a sight never to be forgotten.

Washington Square in Greenwich Village

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The journey to JFK

One of the many passageways within the labyrinthine Frankfurt-Main Airport

After my brief stay in Berlin, I was moving on from Europe. I got to Berlin Tegel airport in the morning, along with lots of Swedes and other football fans flying home. First I had to fly to Frankfurt, an airport I’ve visited a number of times, without ever visiting the city itself, before I got to go through some of the most stringent security checks to board my flight to the US. A lesser person may have felt violated by the thorough padding down everyone got, and I think I must have shown my passport at least 5 times and my air ticket once or twice before I was allowed access to the gate. The Germans do like to do everything by the book.

Left: View of Greenland, Right: Northern Canada

I was looking forward to the flight. When I checked in at Berlin, the Lufthansa guy had given me one of the best seats on the flight – an emergency exit row window seat. It felt great stretching out while all of the people in rows around, cramped in their seats throw murderous glances my way. I could see them thinking – “Why did she get that seat…” Flying during the daytime meant that I got to see Greenland, and all of the north Canadian coastline, before arriving in New York. It was pretty spectacular. Flying into JFK airport, we flew over Long Island before touching down, just in time for me to get fingerprinted at immigration and starting the long trip in to Manhattan on the subway…

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

World Cup fußball fever in Berlin

The bear, a symbol of Berlin, lit up in honour of the World Cup

Back when I was booking my air ticket, I hardly even realised I had booked a flight out of Germany while the World Cup would be on. However because I didn’t book my flight into Germany until the last minute, the best of the few options left me with only 2 nights and a day in Berlin… I had to get sightseeing quickly!

Sunset as I flew into Berlin, and the brand new Hauptbahnhof, only just opened!

I arrived in Berlin on the night that Germany had just beaten Poland, so along with a friend of Greg & Andrea, who I was staying with, I went down straight away to see the party. Fußball, it seems is one of the few occasions where the Germans tend to get a bit rowdy – the Kufurstendamm (Ku’damm) was full of beeping horns, small cars hooning along with 8-10 people sitting in, around or on top of, waving German flags, flags of small obscure nations, who were perhaps not even participating in the cup, and even the odd brave Pole. The atmosphere was fantastic, pubs were making a killing selling beers on the street, and everyone was having a great time.

Fans driving down the Ku'damm, celebrating a German victory over Poland, one of Berlin's neighbours

Even football fans need to eat and drink: German fans pack out Burger King in the early hours of the morning after celebrating, and the Swedish occupation of a bar, from morning till the night of their game.

The next day was a real highlight of the trip. I had all of one day to see Berlin, and there was so much that I wanted to see. It was a day when Berlin felt more like the outreaches of Sweden than the capital of Germany, such was the influx of Swedes in anticipation of their match that evening. I started by wandering down the Ku’damm, past entire pubs populated by Swedes, and looked around all the World Cup stalls – I was sad to notice that there was very little Australian merchandise available!

Left: An exhibition of bears, painted by a representative of selected nations. Australia's is painted by Ken Done.
Right: the cupola of the Reichstag.

Left: the Brandenburg Gate - a symbol of division in the days of the wall, now a symbol of reunification.
Right: the Jewish Memorial

I spent most of the day looking around the famous sights of Berlin – the Reichstag with the amazing mirrored dome, the Berliner Dom, Checkpoint Charlie and the kitschy Soviet souvenirs on sale, Potsdamer Platz, the Jewish Memorial, Charlottenburg, and of course the famous Brandenburg Gate – which was the centre of the ‘Fan Mile’ – a pedestrianised zone, with thorough security at either end. Berlin is a fabulous city, from the bombed out church retained as a memorial to the signature traffic light men. I can’t wait to return!

Interior and exterior of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche,
bombed by Allied forces during the war, and left as a memorial
One of the remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall

Checkpoint Charlie, previously a checkpoint for non-Germans between East and West, and
Right: some of the kitschy war souvenirs for sale. You could also buy Army jackets, Matrioshka dolls and more